As the resident, self-assigned futures “expert” at 3MW (because writing 3 articles in 3 years makes me an expert), I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the release of Caesars Entertainment’s odds for each Power 6 conference tournament, all set to take place in just under 3 months. Another chance for me to find value for you, our beloved readers, or (more likely) embarrass myself pretending I can outwit the oddsmakers? Why yes, I would love that!
Given that we just started working with SI Gambling yesterday, 3MW’s hubris could not be any higher right now…so here’s some quick thoughts on all six tournaments, along with a pick or two for each:
No surprise here with Duke as the clear favorite, but it is worth noting that the Smurf Satans have only captured one ACC Tournament title in the past seven seasons. Compare that to the previous 13 years, in which Coach K and his teams full of Lee Melchionnis and Greg Pauluses won the event 10 times, and it’s fair to wonder if his freshmen-laden squads are slightly more vulnerable in the neutral court free-for-all. Or maybe it’s because Virginia emerged as a legit ACC and national power, UNC has been good enough to go to two NCAA title games, and the ACC ballooned to 15 teams with very few pushovers. Or MAYBE - none of that matters anyways, because this year’s Blue Devils are a professional basketball team. Sigh.
Virginia, 5/1 – Simple reasoning - they’re not drastically worse than Duke or UNC, and they have the best odds of that “Big Three.” My concern with this pick would be Tony Bennett deciding that, after gassing his players to an ACC Tournament title last year (and seeing DeAndre Hunter suffer an injury in the process), he subtly tanks it this time around by playing more of his roster than usual. Plus, they’d likely avoid playing a dreaded 16-seed in the Big Dance…you know what, just take Duke and start spending your winnings.
Perhaps the most intriguing conference of the six given Villanova’s early struggles and DePaul’s “we’re not that bad!” start to the year, these odds strike me as ripe for value. Nova still has Jay Wright on the sidelines, but they’re not anchored by a bunch of NBA players like last year’s squad was (though Eric Paschall will likely get a shot there), so I’m surprised that they’re so clearly the favorite. Of course, no other team has really barnstormed through the first 6 weeks of the season, either – even undefeated St. John’s has played the country’s 332nd-toughest schedule, per KenPom. There’s certainly value in avoiding losses, but I’m still surprised to see them trailing only Villanova in the “rankings.”
Providence, 15/1 – Ed Cooley has had success at Madison Square Garden (the Friars pushed the eventual champion Wildcats to OT in the Big East final last year), and with a team that relies heavily on two freshmen, it stands to reason they’ll be much better in March than they are now. Just too much value here.
Butler, 6/1 – Not a sexy pick, honestly, but let’s just go with this: they’re only a hair behind Villanova as the Big East’s best team per KenPom.com (and they’re the best one by far at Haslametrics.com and barttorvik.com), and you get them at +600. Sometimes it’s best to not overthink things.
Creighton, 8/1 – Basically, my point is that I don’t think Villanova or St. John’s wins, and I’m content with taking three other teams I view as NCAA Tournament caliber (Marquette is too, but I don’t trust Wojo enough to take them in this setting). The Bluejays have been absolutely sizzling from deep (44.8% so far), led by Weave crush Mitch Ballock’s 34/68 flamethrowing, and the continued emergence of Marcus Zegarowski and Ty-Shon Alexander as dueling creative engines in the backcourt will make the Bluejays a tough out at MSG.
Welcome back to Chicago, Big Ten Tournament! You’re back where you belong (Indianapolis is also acceptable), and the Weave will be making every (probably futile) effort to obtain press credentials for the event. I’m pretty shocked to see Michigan not leading the odds, considering they’ve been a bulldozer and a tank and a monster truck all rolled into one so far this year. Of course, Michigan State has been no slouch, either, and the next tier – Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio St. – has been far better than we anticipated. Watching Carsen Edwards drag the Boilers to a tourney title with 100 points in 3 days would be a blast, too, but I’ll go with…
Michigan, 5/2 – I don’t have a ton of hard and fast gambling rules, but I’m making a new one now: when the clear best team doesn’t have the lowest odds, I’m taking that team. The Wolverines defense is (debatably) the best in the country, with Jon Teske, Zavier Simpson, and Charles Matthews all being among the best at their respective positions in the country (and Iggy Brazdeikis and Isaiah Livers are no slouches). Also, John Beilein is a wizard whose teams always get better, although that may be hard since this version is already a juggernaut.
Indiana, 15/1 – The Hoosiers have a pretty good coach, two NBA players, and best of all – another point guard has emerged to relegate Devonte Green to the bench (hello, Rob Phinisee!). They’ve been hurt by injuries early in the year (even Morgan and Langford have been nicked up, despite not missing any games), as well, making me think they’ll be better now than they are today. And honestly, +1500 is just too much value for me to pass on - feels like that will go down in the future.
Another unsurprising clear favorite, as Kansas will likely enter the tournament as the 1 seed having just captured a 15th-straight Big 12 regular season title. Plus, the event is played in Bill Self’s sandbox, the Sprint Center in Kansas City. This year’s Jayhawks have looked plenty vulnerable, though, only surviving game efforts from teams like Louisiana, Vermont, and Stanford due to Lagerald Vick morphing into a fire-breathing dragon from the perimeter.
Texas Tech, 5/1 – I almost went with TCU at 8/1, and you probably can’t go wrong with them or Oklahoma at 10/1. But I’m sticking with my preseason love for Chris Beard, Jarrett Culver, and *Chris Berman voice* THE RED RAAAAIDAS. The defense will travel (actually #1 in AdjDE per KenPom right now), and I think Culver, Matt Mooney, and an expected emergence from Deshawn Corprew will give Texas Tech enough offense, as well.
Our colleague at SI, Max Meyer (@TheMaxMeyer on Twitter), is one of the Pac 12’s biggest fans, and he shares our massive relief that in 2013, the league moved its main event to the site of the Main Event - lovely Las Vegas. The Staples Center (and LA as a whole) just didn’t quite have the same energy, and there’s something truly special about being able to bet on a game while at that game. Okay - enough kind words about this conference, because all of these teams smell like microwaved tuna fish, and I’ll be holding my nose no matter what direction I go in here. One last thought - the fact that Oregon State is viewed as more likely than USC to win the league tournament might be the single greatest indictment of Andy Enfield’s “accomplishments” this year.
Oregon, 3/1 - What do you want from me?? None of these teams are very good right now, so I guess I’ll bet on Dana Altman putting the pieces together by the time March rolls around. Honestly, though, don’t bet on these odds. Go play blackjack, or bet on the Milwaukee Bucks to win the East, or anything else, really.
Kentucky…third?! It’s true, and probably correct - this year’s Wildcats aren’t the same threat that we’ve seen John Calipari run out in the past. Of course, we thought that a few times last year (PEOPLE FORGET that UK was 6-7 in the SEC on Valentine’s Day), and the Wildcats ended up winning the conference tournament, so it’s best to not write them off quite yet. The league’s depth hasn’t been as overflowing as advertised, and I’m guessing the winner will come from the group of “favorites.”
Tennessee, 3/1 - remember that rule I came up with in the Big Ten section about the best team not having the lowest odds? ROCKY TOP, baby! The Vols may not quite have a professional basketball team like Duke, but they do have a professional wrestling trio, as Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Yves Pons may rip opponents limb from limb along with beating them at hoops. They’re also a KU squeaker from being undefeated, and their best days may still be ahead of them - the Vols’ best perimeter shooter, Lamonte Turner, has only played 3 subpar games due to injury.